The National Minimum Wage is a rate applied to most workers in the UK and is their minimum hourly entitlement. For adults over the age of 21, it has recently been increased to £6.08 – 15p rise. Rises have also been seen for 18-20 year olds, 16 and 17 year olds and apprentices. Undoubtedly this is good news for workers receiving the minimum wage, but what does it mean for firms and national unemployment data?
Market wages are determined by the interaction of the demand and supply of labour and when they are in equilibrium, the only unemployment in the economy will be equilibrium unemployment, namely frictional or structural. However, when the wage rate is forced above the equilibrium wage rate, disequilibrium unemployment may develop. At a wage above the equilibrium the supply of labour will exceed the demand for labour and the excess is unemployment. Furthermore, firms are already facing difficult times with the economic climate: sales remain relatively low, but costs are still high. By increasing the national minimum wage, firms will face higher labour costs and this may discourage them from taking on new workers, but may also force them into laying off existing workers.
It is hoped that the size of the increases will help low paid workers, as costs of living continue to rise, but won’t cause firms to reduce their labour force. This is one reason, in particular, why the increase in the minimum wage for young workers is smaller than that for adults. Youth unemployment is relatively high and so it is essential that firms keep these workers on, despite their increased costs.
Although the TUC has welcomed the increases in the National Minimum Wage, saying they will benefit some 900,000 workers, the General Secretary of Unison has said that it isn’t high enough.
“The rise to £6.08 is a welcome cushion, but with the price of everyday essentials such as food, gas and electricity going up massively, it won’t lift enough working people out of the poverty trap.”
The following articles consider this issue.
Minimum wage rises by 15p to £6.08 an hour Telegraph (3/10/11)
Minimum wage up by 15p to £6.08 BBC News (1/10/11)
150,000 social care workers paid below legal minimum wage, research reveals Guardian, Shiv Malik (3/10/11)
Unions want £8 an hour minimum wage Press Association (1/10/11)
Hunderds of thousands of women to benefit as minimum wage hits the £6-an-hour mark for the first time Mail Online, Emma Reynolds (29/9/11)
Unions demand minimum wage of £8 an hour Telegraph (30/9/11)
Changes will benefit workers Sky News (2/10/11)
- Is the minimum wage an example of a price ceiling or a price floor?
- If the National Minimum Wage was imposed below the market equilibrium, what would be the effect?
- If imposed above the market wage rate, the National Minimum Wage may create unemployment. On which factors does the extent of unemployment depend?
- Why is it expected that female workers are likely to be the main ones to benefit? What does this say about gender inequality?
- Why does the General Secretary of Unison not believe the higher National Minimum Wage will help people out of the poverty trap?
- How will the National Minimum Wage affect a firm’s costs of production. Illustrate the likely impact on a diagram.